By: Rachel Neifeld, RD, CDN
After nine months of abstaining from alcohol during pregnancy, it may come as a shock to new moms when an alcoholic beverage is actually recommended during breastfeeding. Dark, hoppy beers are commonly touted as being a natural remedy for enhancing milk supply- but how much evidence is there to back these milk-boosting claims?
While some research exists demonstrating that beer can increase the secretion of prolactin- the hormone that stimulates milk production– this is not the whole picture. The prolactin-stimulating compound in beer is a polysaccharide found in barley, which is one of the main ingredients used to make beer. Beer also holds a few health benefits of its own by contributing carbohydrates, a small amount of B vitamins and potassium to the diet, though it shouldn’t be depended upon as a main dietary source of these nutrients.
However, just because the barley in beer may help with some aspects of milk production, it takes more than just prolactin to achieve successful breastfeeding. Other research shows that alcohol consumption may reduce infants’ breast milk intake by making babies too sleepy to continue feeding or by altering the taste of breast milk. However, the transfer of alcohol into breast milk can be prevented by waiting two hours to breastfeed after consuming a serving of alcohol. This is the amount of time it takes for the body to metabolize and excrete alcohol so that none passes through breast milk to the baby.
As it is necessary to feed frequently- every three hours- in the beginning stages of breastfeeding, it is best to wait until directly after a breastfeeding session to consume an alcoholic beverage. This will ensure that a full two hours has passed before the baby needs to be fed again.
One serving of alcohol is equal to a 12 ounce beer, a 5 ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor. Another way to reap potential benefits of beer while eliminating the possibility of transferring alcohol into breast milk is by consuming a non-alcoholic beer, as these contain the same prolactin-stimulating compounds as alcoholic varieties.
Despite some evidence that beer may increase breast milk production, the bottom line is that it’s not a magic bullet. If a woman enjoys beer or another type of alcohol, a serving can be safely consumed as long as the guidelines above are followed. Not enough research has been done to prove that beer or the consumption of any one food in particular can significantly increase breast milk production.
The most important things to do in order to ensure optimal milk production and successful breastfeeding are to include a variety of nutrient-dense foods in the diet, consume an extra 500 calories, 10 to 12 eight-ounce servings of fluid daily and to continue taking a prenatal vitamin. Getting adequate rest and nutrition will maintain a mother’s health and energy levels, which in turn will optimize breastfeeding for both her and her baby.